Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Frederick Guthard: His Last Will and Testament (1791)

Frederick Guthard, probably as a young child, immigrated to the New World at the port of Philadelphia with his father Heinrich Guthard on August 30, 1737 from what we now know as Germany. The ship "Samuel" had brought them to their destination after a several months long journey from Germany to Rotterdam (of the Netherlands) and across the Atlantic Ocean. He settled in Pennsylvania. In 1790, he lived in the township of Exeter, population 893, comparable to most of the towns in Berks County at that time. This was rural farm country.

On Friday, May 6, 1791, Frederick and those close to him knew he didn't have much longer to live. His family helped draw up his last will and testament, and Frederick scrawled his signature on the piece of paper confirming his wishes for the distribution of his real estate and personal property. Within two days of that last stroke of the pen in his hand, he had departed this world and his body was buried near Schwarzwald Reformed Church in Exeter, PA. The church shared the name "Schwarzwald," the Black Forest of southwestern Germany, not far from Frederick's homeland.

217 years after Frederick Guthard's death, and about 100 miles southeast of his place of burial, one of his 6th great grandsons (yours truly) held Frederick's will in his hands. The yellowed and faded loose papers were neatly organized in a manilla folder in the files of the Register of Wills office in the Berks County Courthouse in Reading, Pennsylvania. I made photocopies, and in June 2010, I finally took a good look at my ancestor's estate record and transcribed it into a PDF document which you can easily view.

Take a look for yourself at the exquisite handwriting of the will in the image below (you can right-click on the image and open it in a new window to read it).

Frederick's will indicates he was survived by his wife Maria Catherina; six sons - John, Henry, William, Jacob, Frederick, and Peter; and two daughters, Catherina (widow of Isaac Wagner) and Magdelina (widow of Elias Wagner). The name "Frederick" has been very common along my Goodhart family line. Beginning with this Frederick Guthard of 1791, seven of my eight paternal ancestors have "Frederick" either as a first or middle name. Frederick means "peaceful ruler" in Old German.

Frederick was most likely a farmer, judging from the inventory of items listed in his will. Even if he had another primary occupation, the quantity of livestock and crops indicate he was able to live off the land he owned. For livestock, he had two cows, an old horse, six old sheep, three lambs, 6 "hoggs," five pigs (hogs are older and heavier than pigs), and "a half share of 4 hives of Bees." His crops consisted of wheat, rye, clover, indian corn, and flax. A "winowing fann" would have been used to remove the inedible parts of the grain crops. With a "flax brake," a "cloath press," and a spinning wheel, he (or other family members) were able to make linen bags, clothes, sheets, and various cloths, using the flax available on the land - or wool from his sheep. He was also part owner of an apple mill. Considering he had a grind stone, a crosscut saw, and an axe and hammer, he could have cut down trees on his land for firewood or to make furniture (or even his home).

Clothing was made of various materials - linen, flax, leather, felt, and even velvet. The family certainly could have produced the first four materials, but I'm unsure if they could have made the velvet "jacket" and "breeches." Velvet was probably not easy to make or come by.

He must have had an adequate kitchen (where his wife or daughters most likely worked considering the time period). He had a ten plate stove for cooking, along with kettles and pots. There was plenty of pewter kitchenware - more than a dozen plates, two dishes, two "basons" (basins - possibly used for keeping things cold), thirteen spoons, and a quart (for holding or serving drinks?). There was enough dining ware to serve the entire family and some guests.

He had a 30 hour clock, so they could keep track of the time.

Religion played a role in Frederick's life, as can be inferred from the place of his burial and the Christian references in the first paragraph of his will. He also owned a book of the new and old testament, as well as a "Folio German Bible." Oh, how I wish I could find that particular bible! Perhaps someone in another line of the family now possesses it.

I am fascinated with the knowledge that Frederick had a collection of various coins and currencies. I wonder where he got these - traveling? Did he hold onto these when he left Europe to come to Pennsylvania? Or were they passed down from his mother or father? In his possession were seven half Johannes coins (from Portugal), four Guineas (from England), eighteen French crowns, and 21 Spanish dollars. Since they assessed the value of all of Frederick's items, one can also get a sense of how much each of these currencies were worth in 1791 in Pennsylvania.

Frederick apparently had slaves according to his will, though they were not counted in the 1790 census. The slaves were considered one of the family debts in the inventory. Much of the money from the sale of Frederick's property was disbursed to neighbors. The reasons for this disbursement are not made known - maybe they were payments for services or products, before and after Frederick's death.

Frederick's wife Maria Catherina was given a third of the share of his personal property, and according to Frederick's will, she initially was to be given one third of the purchase money from the sale of his real estate. However, Maria Catherina later affirms (with her mark - meaning she was unable to write) that she was instead intended to receive one third of the interest made from his real estate. Was this a genuine mistake in the original will? Probably. Though it is interesting to think about the family discussion regarding this matter.

All told, the entirety of the financial matters seems to have been settled on or around June 17, 1792, more than a year following Frederick's death.

This was a learning experience for me in analyzing Frederick's estate record. Certainly, my research was not by any means exhaustive. Additionally, there is more I can do in looking at Frederick's entire life. Apparently, there are deeds and church records out there according to others' research, though I did not mention them here because I want to see them for myself before referring to them. It is amazing how different the terminology was compared to the present day. Many of the items listed in the inventory were completely unknown to me. Thank goodness for Google and Wikipedia.

Feel free to comment if you notice any errors - or if you have an observation or just want to appreciate the material!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What I'm Presently Working On

Just a quick update on what I'm working on with genealogy right now. A couple of years ago, I made photocopies of the last will and testament of my 6th great grandfather Frederick Guthard at the Register of Wills office in Reading, Pennsylvania. Last night, I finally got around to transcribing it - and wow, it's definitely fascinating to read the inventory of appraised items he left behind back in 1791 when he passed away. If you're curious to read the PDF file I created of the transcription, you can do so here: Last Will and Testament of Frederick Guthard. Within the next couple of days, I plan on posting some of my thoughts and analysis of what I found.

Also, one thing I like to do is volunteer for FreeBMD - an online project to transcribe the Civil Registration index of births, marriages, and deaths for England and Wales. Once a month, I transcribe an index page for the site. It takes a couple of hours to do, but I feel like it's worth my time. It was through FreeBMD that I found indexes to records of my own ancestors. From those indexes, you can order birth, marriage, or death records from the General Register Office. If you're interested in volunteering to transcribe the indexes - or if you're looking for your ancestors' records, you can do so by going to the FreeBMD website.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A 1907-1909 College Transcript

While academic records may not provide much in vital or relationship details, they can be useful in enriching knowledge of an individual's life background. College records can be especially rewarding since they can shed light on a person's educational or career goals. It is not difficult to obtain a copy of an academic transcript/record from a college or university, particularly if a significant amount of time has passed since the person was alive.

In my particular case, my paternal grandmother informed me that her father, John Tyler Fairall (b. 1892, d. 1972), had attended Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, West Virginia at some point in the early 1900s. His obituary also stated the same [see photo on right, he was 20 years old here - not too long after attending Shepherd College].

By calling the registrar's office of what is now Shepherd University, I was able to request his academic transcript with the estimated time frame of his attendance. I was required to provide documentation to support that I was related to J.T. Fairall, which again was not very difficult. The registrar searched through their old records (she also expressed how interesting it was to go through their archives since people typically don't request older records), and about a month later, at very little financial cost, I was delighted to receive a copy of his academic record, which you can see here. I took the liberty of electronically stitching together the sections of his record since it was photocopied on two different pages.

Academic Transcript for John Tyler Fairall
(You can right click the image and open in a new tab/window for a full view)

Source Citation: Academic Transcript for John Tyler Fairall, 1907 - 1909; Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, West Virginia; supplied 26 March 2007 to author; author's files.

The transcript shows his "date of entry" of Sep. 1907 into the college, at the young age of 15. No record was found of his graduation. J.T. Fairall was enrolled in the Cadet Corps, presumably with the understanding that he would be commissioned into the U.S. Army as an officer (he would later become a reconnaissance pilot during World War I in France with the rank of Lieutenant).

The parent's name is provided on the transcript, Mrs. A.E. Fairall (his mother, Anna Eliza).

He received credit for a few classes based on his prior education with "Grade 2 school and free school certificates." Though more classes are offered today in colleges, J.T. did have options from which to choose. He was a decent speller, according to his grades in "Orthography," a term for the study of spelling. In the study of languages, he mostly learned Latin though he took a bit of German, too. Latin wasn't his strong suit, though. Overall, he seemed to do well in classes but many of the examinations stumped him (perhaps an anxious test taker?). He had previous credit for penmanship - you certainly don't see penmanship as a college-level course anymore! At the far-right end of the transcript, there is a section called "Deportment," which I believe relates to his manners/behavior. He must have presented himself well and paid attention in class!

As you can see, his transcript showed clues of the directions toward which he was heading. What it doesn't show is whether he lived on the college campus or commuted. It is possible he made a short trek to the college as he had family living in Shepherdstown at the time.

Shepherd University Special Collections provides online access to previously published course catalogs and yearbooks.  During J.T.'s time, the institution was a State Normal School, and tuition was free to residents of West Virginia - a far cry from the costs of a college education today!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Moving to Blogspot

Just a quick note to say I've decided to move my blog to as this site is much faster. I also want to save space on my domain server for all of the images and documents.

I've also changed my blog title to "Take a Goodhart Look through Genealogy." I think it's catchy, don't you? :)